This small night scene extols the virtues of teaching (light passed on) and practice (the sharpened pen), which the much admired Aristotle recommended as paths to knowledge. The subject would have appealed to many in Dou’s city of Leiden, home of a famous university.
This picture is one of numerous night scenes painted by Dou in the 1650s and 1660s. Here, the candle in the midst of the scholars is surely intended as a metaphor for knowledge, a common notion in antiquity and in the seventeenth century. It is possible that Dou intended the lighting of the second candle to convey the idea of learning passed on from teacher to pupil (Liedtke 2007). The act of sharpening a pen signified the notion of practice, which is suggested more literally by the boy who is writing.
There are two other slightly later versions of this subject: The Night School (Uffizi, Florence), which is thought to date from about 1660, and a panel of the same title (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), probably painted a few years later. An earlier related composition, The Schoolmaster, dated 1645, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
The irregular edges and lopsided arched top of the panel suggest either that it was cut down along the top or that this is not the original format. The dark maroon-brown curtain that borders the composition along the top is not original.
[2010; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Sir Gregory Page, 2nd Baronet, Wricklemarsh, Blackheath, near London (by 1761–d. 1775); his great-nephew, Sir Gregory Page Turner, 3rd Baronet, Battlesden Park, Battlesden, Bedfordshire (1775–86; sale, Paillet, Paris, March 27–28, 1786, no. 9, with a "pendant" by Schalcken); Charles T. Yerkes, Chicago and New York (until d. 1905; his estate, 1905–10; his estate sale, American Art Association, New York, April 5–8, 1910, no. 91 [no. 20 in deluxe catalogue], for $2,500 to Ellis); Lillian M. Ellis, New York (1910–d. 1940)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Rembrandt and His Pupils," January 9–February 23, 1969, no. 37.
Toronto. Art Gallery of Ontario. "Rembrandt and His Pupils," March 14–April 27, 1969, no. 37.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Painter's Light," October 5–November 10, 1971, no. 9.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 10, 1995–January 7, 1996, no. 44.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Museum of the City of New York. "Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson," April 4–September 27, 2009, no catalogue.
London and its Environs Described. London, 1761, vol. 1, p. 322, lists "A Schoolmaster," by Dou, 14 x 11 inches, in the collection of Sir Gregory Page, possibly this picture.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 1, London, 1907, p. 416, no. 208, as in the sale of Sir George [sic] Page and others, Paris, 1786.
W[ilhelm]. Martin. Gerard Dou, des Meisters Gemälde in 247 Abbildungen. Stuttgart, 1913, ill. p. 174, dates it about 1660–65.
H[ermann]. W. W[illiams]. Jr. "Dou's Evening School." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 35 (October 1940), p. 206, notes two larger paintings by Dou of the same subject in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the Uffizi, Florence.
Alfred Werner. "Between Darkness and Light." Arts Magazine 43 (March 1969), p. 53, ill. p. 52.
Werner Sumowski. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. Vol. 1, J. A. Backer–A. van Dijck. Landau/Pfalz, 1983–[94?], p. 534, under no. 289.
Mary Frances Durantini. The Child in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting. PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1983, p. 154, fig. 78.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 187.
Marco Chiarini. I dipinti olandesi del Seicento e del Settecento. Rome, 1989, p. 107, under no. 20.52.
Ronni Baer. "The Paintings of Gerrit Dou (1613–1675)." PhD diss., New York University, 1990, vol. 2, unpaginated, no. 68, and under nos. 66, 81, and 123; vol. 3, ill., dates it about 1655–57; compares it with "Old Woman Cutting Bread" (no. 66; private collection, Essen); discusses the subject.
Walter Liedtke inRembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, "Paintings, Drawings, and Prints: Art-Historical Perspectives."New York, , p. 142, no. 44, ill., dates it about 1655–60.
Ronni Baer. "A Dou for Boston." Collected Opinions: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Honour of Alfred Bader. Ed. Volker Manuth and Axel Rüger. London, 2004, p. 21, fig. 3.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 156–58, no. 36, colorpl. 36, states that it was probably painted by Dou about 1655–57, as suggested by Baer [see Ref. 1990], or within the next couple of years.